Cycling Routes at Mt. Rainier National Park

For the experienced cyclist, it doesn't get much better for scenery and challenge.

Mt. Rainier draws about 2 million visitors in a typical year. Nearly all are arriving by car and exploring by foot--in hiking boots, on snowshoes, or atop skis.

Then there are the intrepid cyclists, riding that skinny sliver of pavement between a steady procession of SUVs and a precipice that could make you a flat-earth believer.

That's our friends Jeremy and Sally, avid cyclists and twice-a-year Little Owl guests. They've been riding everything from fold-up Bromptons to road bikes in bike-friendly locales around the world. From the front doors of all five of our cabins, they've pedaled in and around Mt. Rainier National Park several times, and rank it high in their pantheon of favorite riding destinations.

In their words, here are their favorite routes:

Stevens Canyon to Paradise (42 miles, 4,500 ft. gain)

If you're driving into the Park, park on the side of the road on 123 near the Stevens Canyon entrance. Show the ranger your park pass and begin climbing. Continue until you hit Paradise, then return the way you came. Water and food are available at Paradise. Spring and Fall are particularly spectacular--waterfalls in the Spring, wildflowers in the Fall. Don’t be like Jeremy and forget a vest for the descent on the way back. It gets cold!

Skate Creek to Paradise Loop (78 miles, 6,800 ft. gain)

Here’s a fun loop from any of the five cabins. Bike down Skate Creek Road for a few turns and before you know it, you’re at Paradise. Descend down Stevens Canyon and take Hwy 123 and 12 back to Packwood.

123 to Cayuse Pass, Sunrise and back (70 miles, 8,000 ft gain.)

Park at the lot on the intersection of Hwy 12 and 123. Bike Hwy 123 to 410, turn left, then left at the entrance to Sunrise. Return the same way. Water, food, and bathrooms at Sunrise.

Mount Saint Helens and Windy Pass (71 miles, 6,200 ft gain.)

Park at the intersection of Hwy 12 and 131. You'll find a parking lot on your left when you turn on 131. Follow signs to Windy Pass. The road climbs until you reach the volcanic blast zone, where you'll see a new forest emerging from the St Helens eruption. Spectacular views of St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier at the end of the road. Warning: no services at the top. Bring more water and food than you think you need!

Important Tips

  • Buy an annual national park pass and carry it. It is needed for entrances to the park. Yes, even if you’re on a bike.
  • Layers, especially in shoulder seasons.
  • Many of these roads have narrow (or no) shoulders at times. These routes are not recommended for unsteady, inexperienced riders.
  • The National Park can get very busy. Consider biking on weekdays. If you must bike on a holiday or a weekend, try to wrap it up before 10 am, which is when roads get busy.
  • If you’re biking in the spring, heed the occasional "roads closed" signs! Heavy snow machinery might be clearing roads uphill, dumping literally tons of snow onto another road downhill. On a switchback, this could be fatal! We might've screwed this up and gotten a ticket once. (Maybe.)
  • Bring your own bike and extra bike supplies. Packwood does not have a business that offers high quality road bike rentals/service.
  • Bike at your own risk. This list is advisory only. You’re responsible for your own safety. (Jeremy's a lawyer.)

Finally, here's another great reference for riding in the Park, to get you prepared and stoked!